The bishop of Harrisburg, Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, died suddenly and sacramentally on Thursday. In one of his last conversations, he radiated gratitude:
I love the people and the priests of Harrisburg. God has been very good to me. I have accepted four students into the seminary and I have seven more to interview. God is really blessing us with vocations.
He asked for absolution from the priest who was driving him to an E.R. and died before they got there.
There are some beautiful tributes to him — which serve as reminders of the joy and love we are called to as Christians:
Msgr. Francis Depman, pastor of St. Rocco Parish in Avondale and a seminary classmate also ordained in 1981, remembers Joe McFadden as “the kind of person you thought would make a good bishop. He always had a lot of common sense and responded to people in a very caring and peaceful way. He was an example of a great priest.”
Father Jerry Wild was also a classmate at St. Charles and a good friend. “I always appreciated having discussions with him at the seminary and in the early days of our priesthood,” said the pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Norristown. “He saw the Church as a compassionate community of Christ and a source of hope for the poor. I think that Joe always had an awareness of the importance of emphasizing that, and he also had the ability to convey a real presence to each person. He would take the time to talk to them in a deliberate way, to make them feel important.”
Father Joseph Gleason, who is director of spiritual formation for the Theology Division at St. Charles, was ordained in 1987 six years later than Bishop McFadden, but he knew him from when he was 10 or 12 playing ball at McDevitt Playground in East Falls and Joe McFadden hadn’t yet entered the seminary.
“He would organize our baseball leagues and basketball leagues,” he said. “He was always involved in sports. As a coach he emphasized having fun and not worrying about winning or losing.
“When I came to the seminary he was a big influence on me. He was Cardinal Krol’s secretary but we would get together and talk about the seminary. He was someone who loved the Church and really loved the priesthood. I just thought he had great joy in the priesthood and wanted to share that with me.”
Kathy Kelly, a secretary in the administrative offices of the Archdiocese, came to know the future Bishop McFadden very well tracing back to the time he was secretary to Cardinal John Krol.
“Bishop McFadden was the kind of priest every priest should be,” she said. “He loved God, and he had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother. He loved the priesthood and everything he did showed that,” she said. “This is a great loss to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Harrisburg.”
Jim Longon, a Catholic businessman and philanthropist, recalled how about five years ago he posed what he thought would be a tough question for Bishop McFadden.
“If the Pope called you and said he wanted to reward you for a job well done, so he told you to pick any job you wanted in the Church — Vatican, Ireland, U.S., whatever — what would it be?” Longon said.
“Without a moment’s hesitation he responded, ‘A pastor, and I don’t care what parish.’ He told me that the job of a bishop is a cross and that he became a priest to be a pastor.”
May we see God’s blessings and give thanks as Bishop McFadden did. May we know God’s love, sharing it, tenderly.
And bear in mind that our hour may come when we are not expecting it … be prepared …